Struggling Longhorns welcome conference leader with season at crossroads

Courtney Ramey (Will Gallagher/IT)
Courtney Ramey (Will Gallagher/IT)

AUSTIN, TX — Following UT’s loss against TCU, head coach Shaka Smart’s team was presented with the unique opportunity to play a non-conference game well into the Big 12 season.

They drew a Georgia Bulldogs team that turned the ball over 26 times and still defeated Texas 98-88 behind a sizzling 67-percent shooting effort in Athens on Saturday.

Texas, who has lost five of its last six games, now welcomes Big 12 co-leader No. 11 Kansas (16-4, 5-2 Big 12) Tuesday. Getting things back on track against one of the top teams in the country won’t be attainable if Texas repeats the poor defensive performance from Athens.

“We just played them exactly two weeks ago, so there’s a lot of things to take from that game we can apply and do a little bit better,” Smart said. “We just really have talked a lot as a team about finding the areas where we can be two points better on this possession, three points better in this four-minute segment, and obviously those things add up to determine the outcome of the game.”

That game in Phog Allen Field House came down to the last possession. Jase Febres’ three-point attempt to win the game was heavily contested and missed the mark.

Texas’ only win since that game was days later at home against Oklahoma. Smart believes the season implications behind the Kansas game could be greater than they were when facing the Sooners.

“It’s a chance for our team and our program to demonstrate where we are and how we respond to a really, really tough week last week,” Smart said. “I thought the Oklahoma game was like that. I thought that was a game that we really had to come out and demonstrate a response. I tell our guys all the time to focus on the next most important thing, and that’s what this is right now.”

Much of what Smart has emphasized during the offseason and the current season was based on communication. After games, he has spoken on how difficult portions of the season have led to difficult, yet honest conversations in the locker room.

Smart admitted beginning those conversations is a part of his staff’s role as coaches, but added those conversations are more powerful when it’s player-driven or player-led, naming Dylan Osetkowski as one who has taken it upon himself to begin those conversations.

Increased and still-healthy communication is beneficial for a team even in difficult times, but Smart understands that doesn’t matter if it doesn’t result in better outcomes on the scoreboard.

“At the end of the day, talk is talk,” Smart said. “It’s about going out there on the floor and, in the case of defense, doing the things that you have to do to get stops.”

Smart was also asked about his team’s confidence level at this point in the season. He said they understand what leads to success on the court and have emphasized those key points, trying to get his team to turn that into habit.

“It comes out of having past experience where you’ve had success, Smart said. “Then, it comes out of, from a team standpoint, an understanding that there’s a 1000 percent commitment on your part and on the part of the guys around you to the same thing. Every big win I’ve ever been a part of, that’s been a common denominator.”

Texas’ game against the Jayhawks tips off at 6 p.m. at the Erwin Center and will air on ESPN.